MIDWAY, Utah — LDS filmmaker Kieth Merrill says
he picked the background for "The Testaments" by default, and if he had
it to do over, he would have sought locations in North America rather
than Central and South America.
Speaking Friday at the Book of Mormon Prophecies Conference at the
Zermatt resort, Merrill said he believes evidence supports a North American
backdrop in the "promised land" for the Book of Mormon stories, wars
and visits from Jesus Christ.
"I know that the Book of Mormon is true. I can't say I know where it
all took place," Merrill said as he addressed a packed house as the
conference's keynote speaker. "I'm the guy who made the biggest, most
expensive film (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has
ever made, and I put it in the wrong place."
Merrill said the common notion that the Mayan and Aztec peoples and
other such civilizations known to have lived in Central America during
Book of Mormon history influenced his choice of jungle location. (He
ultimately filmed "The Testaments" on the Hawaiian island of Kauai
after roaming the jungles of the Yucatan.)
"I can't wait to redo the movie and put buffalo in it," he said.
Merrill said his mental map has been altered by DNA experts who are
not finding hard evidence that the Book of Mormon people ever lived in
Central America and by researchers such as Rod Meldrum, the author of
the new DVD "DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography." Meldrum and
other researchers argue that the Nephites and Lamanites lived in the
same basic area of the United States where the LDS Church was founded.
Merrill said when he was asked to make the new film about Christ,
LDS Church leaders never designated where to film. In fact, President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency at the time, told him specifically not to shoot
footage with recognizable landmarks in the background for fear church
members would assume that whatever landscape was portrayed would be
accepted as the prevailing truth.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made no
official statement. Therefore, every statement, every idea you hear
about today, is simply a theory," Merrill reminded his audience.
"I went with the default location," he said. "My comfort zone was
that the book is true and it doesn't matter where it took place. But
looking north instead of south has allowed me to see the drama in a
whole new way. It's like I'm now seeing it in 3-D digital. It's
Merrill said members of the church shouldn't get overly exercised
about the specifics but remain open-minded and centered on truth.
"To the honest in heart, there is nothing at stake here," he said.
"If you remain skeptical, may I suggest a re-reading of the Book of
Mormon and see if you don't discover a new perspective."